Lamont Peterson "was already a champion in life way before he was ever a champion in the ring," according to Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson, a former two-division titleholder who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2012.
"Just from his story, he's got my vote," Johnson said of Peterson, who was fending for himself in the streets of Washington, D.C., before he was 10 years old.
Peterson (33-2-1, 17 knockouts) will face Danny Garcia (29-0, 17 KOs) in Brooklyn, New York, on April 11 as the co-main feature of a Premier Boxing Champions card on NBC.
Johnson, himself a native of the nation’s capital, retired in February 2006 with a record of 44-5 with 28 knockouts, and was the first African-American to win titles in both the 112- and 115-pound divisions.
"I was a 5-foot-3, 112-pounder who went to a tough high school in D.C. I wasn't bullied, but you can just imagine, as a boxer, how I always had to prove myself," Johnson said. "I was always going to have to do that whenever guys stepped to me, and I had to stand up and make it known that I wouldn't take anything from anybody. Lamont has it the same way."
Peterson, one of 12 siblings, bounced from foster care to the streets as a child after his father was jailed on drug charges and his mother was often unable to care for the children, leaving the kids to fend for themselves.
Until being rescued by trainer Barry Hunter, Peterson earned cash by washing car windows, picking pockets, stealing from grocery stores and taking tips off of the tables at outdoor restaurants, among other things.
"Going from sleeping at bus stations and living on the streets, Lamont already has my vote," Johnson said. "To me, Lamont Peterson was already a champion in life way before he was ever a champion in the ring."
Given that Peterson was dropped three times by Lucas Mattysse in a third-round TKO loss in May 2013, and that Garcia subsequently floored once Mattysse in winning a unanimous decision four months later, there are those who discount Peterson's chances against Garcia. But Johnson remains a believer in Peterson.
"Lamont doesn't get credit for how good he is. Lamont is a great boxer, and if he had done what he could have done, he could have outboxed Matthysse," Johnson said. "But sometimes, as a D.C. fighter, when you get hit, you want to be Arturo Gatti. You want to be Micky Ward. Like, if you hit me four times, I want to hit you six times. We want to hit you right back. But I think that you'll see a different Lamont Peterson against Danny Garcia."
Johnson was ringside for Peterson's title-winning effort in December 2011 at the Washington Convention Center, when he rose from a first-round knockdown for a split decision over Amir Khan.
"When I saw him in the amateurs, and as he grew older, I knew that he would become a world champion,” Johnson said. “And he did that with a major victory over Amir Khan. Over the years, we've developed a great respect for each other, and I continue to like what I see in this kid."